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Malvolio Production Diary: First* Read, Part Two

The Second Act. Not that we will be taking act breaks, or even that I strongly believe in the act-scene structure in the first place, but there it is.

II,i is Sebastian and Antonio. Nothing there for or about Malvolio, although sometimes there is business with Malvolio coming on at the end of that scene and seeing Sebastian exit one direction as Cesario enters from the other. It’s a good bit, but only if Malvolio is entirely a figure of fun, I think. Anyway, it leads into II,ii, Malvolio returning (he thinks) Orsino’s ring to Cesario. Malvolio is clearly pompous and contemptuous—does he think he is taking this cue from Olivia? It’s interesting (to YHB) that she entrusts him with a ring and that he doesn’t just pocket it, given the chance. He clearly isn’t venal in that sense. There’s no great relationship question between Malvolio and Cesario in this scene; I wonder whether Malvolio regrets letting him in. He doesn’t seem to approach him with the caution that he might if he had been truly baffled at the gate back in Act One.

II,iii is the carousing scene. It begins with Sir Toby and Andrew, then Feste joins them, and then Maria, and then finally Malvolio comes down and drops the hammer on them. This is early morning; was Malvolio woken up by their noise or by Olivia sending for him? Is this the first such revelry or the worst, or just another instance? He expresses shock that they are so awful, then he warns Toby that Olivia has reached the limit of her tolerance. He is mocked and then ignored. Well, ignored in the dialogue, as Toby and Feste sing; whether they pointedly ignore him whilst singing or flick breadballs at him is not yet determined. He breaks through their wall of noise, warns Maria that he’ll tell Olivia that she was carousing with the drunks, and then storms out. Then Maria comes up with the false letter plot. Do they have some previous personal antipathy or this a sudden brainstorm? Has Malvolio been living in the house with enemies all along (whether he created them or not) or are they just now turning against him? Feste has no lines after Malvolio leaves; some productions have him present for the plotting and some don’t. Who hates Malvolio and how much?

II,iv is Orsino’s court again.

II,v is the letter scene. This is Malvolio’s big scene. Maria has probably just told him that Olivia fancies him and he talks to himself, imagining being head of her household. During all this bit the conspirators are jabbering away in between Malvolio’s musings; we’ll need to hit rhythms there, to have enough room for their comments without obviously pausing for that purpose. Then he finds the letter and reads it aloud. Reads it in sections: first the poem, then a dozen or more lines of prose, then he muses and interprets, and then after that a postscript and his exit line. He doesn’t interact with anyone for something like 160 lines, of which he has more than a hundred lines on his own (the rest being the conspirators talking amongst themselves, unheard by Malvolio). Dunno how much of this will be cut, if any, but it’s a long bit to be talking to yourself. When I’ve seen it done well, the actor has talked directly to the audience, but that wasn’t from a proscenium stage like we’ll be using.

Well, and I don’t have much to say about this scene yet. there’s a lot to be worked out, but I don’t at the moment have any way in to it. I think, on the whole, that this is a scene to be gone back to after the rest has been worked out. The important thing, probably the only important thing, is that it be funny. Which of course I won't actually know until and unless somebody laughs.

I will add some exciting news: I ran into an old AYLI castmate (well, I say ran in to, more accurately went to see as a Pirate/Policeman in a production of Penzance) who turns out to be our Andrew! He’s a very funny man, an excellent physical-comedy fellow, and well-cast as Agueface. Even better news, from my point of view, is that Feste will be played by another old AYLI castmate, also a well-seasoned physical comic and all around talented actor. Better news in that I will be interacting with Feste more than Andrew, probably, and because a good Feste is more important to the play as a whole than a good Andrew—a mediocre Aguecheek can be carried but a mediocre Feste cannot. Also I am finding it terrific news because Feste is a woman, and that will make our interaction even more interesting. A Malvolio who is nasty to a female Feste is going to come off nastier, and if they decide to do a lighthearted Twelfth Night, the torture scene is probably milder with a female Feste.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,